As discussed previously, there are times when we beekeepers give our bees sugar as a supplement to their own honey stores. During times of increased brood (baby bee) production for example, and during those long, cold winter months, when bees stay sensibly inside and snack happily on the honey they spent the summer making and storing (boosted by these sugar supplements that we helpful beekeepers provide – just to be sure). I’d heard rumours about the Tesco ‘sugar list’ and thus tootled along to the Customer Services desk of my local branch, secretly expecting the staff there to have no idea what I was talking about …
‘Ah yes’ the smiling Customer Services assistant replied: ‘You need to have your details added to the list, and then just wait – we’ll phone you; there’s a waiting list; you’ll be number five ….’.
A mere three days later I discovered a voicemail: ‘Hello, it’s Tesco’s here; we have some sugar for you … ‘. Now we all love a bargain – even better if it’s free – and as a beekeeper (with three hives now on the go, and winter fast approaching) the repeat cost of sugar soon mounts up. So to receive a large bag containing 12kg or so of perfectly usable (for bees) sugar was extremely welcome. Various split or broken 1kg and 2kg bags, unsaleable and unsuitable for human consumption, but just perfect for dissolving with water to make bee syrup and (as I’ll discuss in a future post) bee ‘candy’. Three weeks later, again a further 11kg or so. In such a short space of time – and with several others between me in receipt of the same – there is evidently a LOT of sugar getting spilled or simply becoming unsalable due to broken packaging. So top marks to Tesco for putting this scheme into action in collaboration with Bee Improvement for Cornwall (just a shame it is not – yet? – nationwide, rolled out to begin with just in parts of the Southwest). A further fortnight on – and another lot; this time roughly 10kg of loose sugar in an extremely useful lidded bucket – bonus: food-grade plastic buckets again cost money, so to be given one for free … well, it just gets better and better! This lot, I discovered, must have been swept up from (I’m guessing) the bakery floor, for I found it to be riddled with flakes of (I think) pastry (or was it nuts??) … Not that this mattered, for it was no great effort to shake the whole lot through a sieve, filtering out the detritus to be left with a fine mound of perfectly usable (for bee purposes) sugar – ideal for transforming into bee syrup, which I’ve been regularly making to feed to my bees since around the start of September. A simple solution of sugar dissolved in hot water, allowed to cool and then stored in large plastic bottles. Easy to transport and ideal for pouring to fill the purpose-designed feeder that goes into the top of the hive, beneath the roof, where the bees very quickly get stuck in – enjoying the easily-assimilated carbohydrate as a much needed energy boost at this busy time, preparing to hunker down for winter. I’ve even experimented by adding dried herbs to infuse the syrup for medicinal effect – a little ‘insider tip’ from an experienced beekeeper friend, adding variable combinations of lavender, sage, thyme and rosemary – all of which I grow in my garden and store dried for kitchen use.
It’s really important – in fact it’s vital – to ensure that the bees have enough food stores to see them through winter. This additional supply of immediately-assimilated carbs in the form of sugar is ideal for fuelling hard-working bees as they go about their busy work, and is given usually only at crucial times of the year, supporting the bees whilst allowing those precious honey stores to remain in the comb for for winter use. It’s essential however, that we supplement in this way only when we have no forthcoming plans to take off honey, and also not when there is sufficient forage (nectar-rich flowers in bloom), because although this additional sugar is intended for immediate consumption (like a person snacking on a high-energy bar before a run) it is not unheard of for bees to store these sugar supplies in the comb, just as they do with nectar (collected from flowers) – meaning the ‘honey’ we take off could in fact be white sugar, processed by the bees in the same way. Not quite the high-quality natural product that we (or they!) are aiming for!